brain food

Let's Get Creative!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I am all about creativity in the classroom! (Who isn't? Creativity rocks, right?) I've always known that creativity is an art, but I've learned that it is also a science. In fact creativity is a skill, just like reading or math, that can be taught and learned. Yes, for real!! :-) Through exposure, experience, and practice, creative thinking is a skill anyone can cultivate.

Did you know that creativity is a skill that can be taught, just like reading and math? Yes, for real! This post offers ideas, activities, and inspiration for building creative thinking and creative thinkers in your classroom.

According to Paul Torrance, (who is often referred to as the "Father of Creativity"), creative thinking can be quantified. He broke it into a 4-part framework, which includes fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. I love this framework because it gives me a scaffold with which to promote, support, and nurture creativity in my students, myself, and my class.

Did you know that creativity is a skill that can be taught, just like reading and math? Yes, for real! This post offers ideas, activities, and inspiration for building creative thinking and creative thinkers in your classroom.


This post, which is the first in a series on creativity, briefly describes the 4-part framework and suggests quick, easy activities you can do with your class to promote creative and critical thinking everyday. So, here we go!

1. FLUENCY:
Fluency is the act of generating many different ideas. This is an essential component of, and often the first step in, the problem solving process. Fluency encourages us to consider a variety of options and, with more options, we are more likely to reach a successful solution.



With fluency, quantity is more important than quality. Accept all ideas that students offer – even the ones that are wacky or off the wall! Students can revisit their list of ideas later to reflect on their responses and decide which ideas are worth keeping.

Brainstorming is a wonderful way to encourage fluency of thought. As a daily warm-up, center activity, or even while you're waiting in line for lunch with your students, pose one of the following questions:

Name things that:
  • are hot
  • are old
  • are sour
  • take less than a minute
  • are big, but not heavy
  • change over time
  • go up and down
  • are better to do fast instead of slow

Another way to promote fluency is through pictures. Present your students with an image and ask them to write a caption or generate alternate uses. Below is an example of writing captions using an everyday icon from Ian Byrdseed's amazing website:



sample captions:
  • "Another juggler gives up on his dreams."
  • "Jack decides to ditch the beans and move to Europe."

Alternate uses for an everyday item, such as a pencil, might be: a drum stick, a back-scratcher, a catapult, chopsticks, etc.


2. FLEXIBILITY:
Flexibility is the ability to produce ideas from different categories, perspectives, and points of view. Flexible thinking encourages us to see one thing in many different ways.




Below are some ways to see usual things in unusual ways and from different points of view.

Forced Associations: A forced association asks students to find similarities among items/ideas that are seemingly unrelated. By combining words that appear to be dissimilar, students are encouraged to think in new ways and to develop new perspectives and understandings. Try these with your class!

How is . . .
  • a teacher like a chair
  • a window like a pair of glasses
  • the earth like a fishbowl
  • number like a letter
Pictures are another great way to promote flexibility. I love these image that I found on SlowRobot.com:



What a great example of using "normal," everyday items to create new things! You can find more ideas for forced associations (and no-prep printables) here.


3. ORIGINALITY:
Originality is the ability to produce ideas that are unique or original. This creativity tool involves synthesis or putting information together in a new way. Scattergories was one of my favorite games growing up; it was not until I was an adult that I figured out how fabulous it is for developing originality! To play, each student generates an item or items for each category. A point is earned for each idea that no one else has. Check out the example below:


Did you know that creativity is a skill that can be taught, just like reading and math? Yes, for real! This post offers ideas, activities, and inspiration for building creative thinking and creative thinkers in your classroom.



4. ELABORATION:
Elaboration is the ability to enhance ideas by providing information and detail. Elaboration can make basic ideas, answers, or pictures interesting and exciting.

For example: provide students with a basic shape, squiggle, or mark on the page. Tell students that this picture is unfinished and that they should brainstorm a list of all the different things it could be. Students should select their favorite idea and then add details to elaborate, enhance, and improve. Here's an example from my Spring Enrichment Packet:

       


If you liked this post, you may be interested in some of the activities below. 






Did you know that creativity is a skill that can be taught, just like reading and math? Yes, for real! This post offers ideas, activities, and inspiration for building creative thinking and creative thinkers in your classroom.       
                                      Brain Food                                  "Back to School" Brain Food


 
Did you know that creativity is a skill that can be taught, just like reading and math? Yes, for real! This post offers ideas, activities, and inspiration for building creative thinking and creative thinkers in your classroom.
                   Picture Prompts for Creative Writing        Squiggle Stories: Creative Writing Prompts


I hope you'll check back for the next part of the creativity series! In the meantime:
How do you promote creative thought in your classroom?  What else do you want to learn or know about creativity?  I'd love to hear from you!

3rd grade

Math Quest - A Problem Solving Adventure

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!


One of my favorite math units to do with upper elementary students is Math Quest! I very rarely repeat units in my classroom (there are too many great new things to try, right?), but Math Quest is one I have returned to year after year. So, I thought I'd share some of the ways I use this AMAZING Interact Unit with my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students.

Math Quest is set up like a game to engage and motivate students. (See the game board below!)


Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!


Students earn “travel dots” for solving math problems; each travel dot is worth one space on the game board. As students work their way towards the treasure chest at the top of the board, they earn special "powers" and gold. The team of students with the most gold at the end of the unit wins! SO MUCH FUN!

Now for the math . . . ! The unit is designed to help students become competent, confident, and creative problem solvers. Throughout the unit, students explore six problem solving strategies:

  • Guess and check
  • Look for a pattern
  • Work backwards
  • Make a picture or a diagram
  • Use Logical Reasoning
  • Make a table or a chart

Students work in teams and then on their own to apply each problem solving method. The Math Quest unit provides all of the problems for team practice and individual application. Each set of problems is tiered to provide varying levels of challenge. I've found that levels A, B, and C correspond pretty well with grades 3, 4, and 5.

When introducing a problem solving strategy, I follow an "I do," "We do," "Y'all do," "You do" approach. With "I do," I introduce and model the strategy. I select a different problem for "we do" and the students and I solve it together; the students record their work in their math notebooks, while I write on the board. If all goes as planned (ha, right?), then we move on to "y'all do." In this stage, students work in their teams of 4 to solve the problem together. We use Student Learning Teams to ensure meaningful learning. In a student learning team, each student has a specific "job," which promotes individual accountability, equal student responsibility, and positive interdependence.


Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!

And then finally, "you do," where students practice and apply the problem solving strategy independently.

Due to the complexity of the problems, I require my students to use a problem solving mat to guide and illustrate their thinking. The work mat guides them through the important steps of understanding, solving, explaining, and checking the problem. Prior to using the mat, my students tended to RUSH, particularly through steps 1 and 4, which seriously compromised the accuracy of their work! I've found that the mat helps my students to navigate and solve complex problems with greater independence and accuracy.

Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!
You can find the problem solving mat here.


I then use a holistic rubric to score the completed mats. While it is not as descriptive as an analytic rubric, I find it more user-friendly for the purpose of scoring LOTS of math problems each week.

Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!
You can find the holistic rubric here.


When I designed the problem solving mats and rubrics, I wanted to emphasize the importance of the problem solving process. Therefore, I wanted students to be rewarded for showing their work and thinking. As a result, students can actually earn more points for an incorrect answer where they have shown their reasoning, then if they simply record the correct answer. With that said, there is a lot of value in accuracy, as well! That is why there is such a large numerical gap (4 – 10) between the two highest scores. I want students to participate in and value the problem solving process, but I also want them to recognize that accuracy is essential.

Putting an emphasis (and a score!) on the problem solving process is a new way of thinking for many students. I've found though, that once students understand and use the problem solving maps & rubrics that it dramatically improves the quality of their work and thinking.

In my experience, when my students take ownership of the rubric, they are more likely to understand and invest themselves in the process. Therefore, I enlist them to help me build the criteria. I provide the descriptors and we discuss each one. In the discussion we address the value of the problem solving process, the importance of accuracy, and our ultimate goal of accomplishing both! As a class, students then decide what point value each level of performance is worth. We record their decisions on paper and use this an anchor chart. It keeps the criteria clear and available and students can refer to it easily throughout the year.

At various times, we revisit the rubric and discuss. As a class, students may change the point values or even modify or add to the descriptors. It is great to hear them reflect on the problem solving process, what worked well, what they value, and how they want their accomplishments recorded.

OK PAUSE! If you've read this far, you are a total rock star and deserve a FREEBIE! hug, hug, kiss, kiss! Here's a link to download my "Guidelines for Team Work" for free.

Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!


Before I sign off on this incredibly long post, I want to share one more of my favorite aspects about Math Quest - FATE CARDS!


Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!


Students love fate cards because they add excitement and introduce the unexpected! At the beginning of each class, teams randomly select a "fate card." Each card provides a different scenario or task, which can cause teams to gain or lose points, gold, and/or their position on the board. Most importantly, they are hysterical! While some cards require academic thinking, (such as calculate the average height of your team or state one of Newton's 3 laws of physics), some cards are just silly and fun. For example, students can earn points for wearing a real shower cap, singing a song, or remaining silent for the entire math class.


Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!


Fate Cards take about 2-3 minutes of class time to complete, but are often the highlight of my students' day! They can not wait to get to math class so they can pull cards and earn points. I've even had students create their own fate cards - in their free time!! - to add to the pile. I LOVE my students!!!

Math Quest is an adventure game that focuses math problem solving strategies.  This highly engaging unit is tiered, making it perfect for a variety of upper elementary grades.  My students love the activities - and, of course, the fate cards!


So, what do you think? What questions do you have? Leave me a comment and let me know! I'd love to hear from you.

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